A frontier town and military cantonment with little grace, Quetta’s busy streets and bazaars teem with fierce-looking Pathan tribesmen. More than seventy per cent of the Quetta’s population are of this origin.
During spring and summer, the colourful bazaars of Quetta are heaped with luscious mountains of fruit, grapes, apples, and melons in particular. Handicrafts include Balochi mirror- work embroidery, jackets, fur coats, and sandals.
The Quetta’s also renowned for a Baluchistan culinary delight — Sajji, which is a charcoal- broiled leg of lamb marinated for hours in a tangy mixture of subtle herbs and spices. Almost every food stall specialises in this delicacy.
Quetta is the seat of the Baluchistan administration and parliament and boasts a thriving university, one of the subcontinent’s most modern television complexes, and a famous and historic military Staff College, established in 1905 to as a result of Lord Kitchener’s 1902 reorganization of the Indian Army.
The entrance is decorated by a brass bell salvaged from a Russian battleship. It was presented by the Japanese Imperial Navy to twenty students and two instructors who visited the battlefields in Manchuria in 1907.
Though devastated by the 1935 earthquake, the college boasts a glorious history. It was here that the cream of the British Indian Army officers were indoctrinated in the most advanced military strategies.
Its three most distinguished pre-Independence graduates were Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, Viscount Bernard Law Montgomery (who’s “Desert Rats” defeated Rommel in an epic World War II battle) and Viscount William Joseph Slim, who led the 14th Army’s victorious but gory battle against the Japanese in Burma during the same war.
The first two Muslim officers to attend the College during its Imperial years were K. M. Idris and Nazir Ahmed. From December 1940 to June 1941, a future President of Pakistan, a young captain, Ayub Khan, was a student.
And College legend has it that during his time there, Yahya Khan, another future President, slept in the library at night to ensure that none of its 10,000 volumes were pilfered.
The college museum, housed in the bungalow once occupied by British World War II hero, Field Marshal Montgomery, is mandatory for military buffs. There’s a collection of papers and photographs illustrating military life between 1935 and 1945.
One of these, written by A. P. Wavell, then a lieutenant, carries the comment by the Commandant of the time that it was a good paper but spoilt by undue emphasis on political matters which were no concern of the military.
Ironically, Wavell went on to become not only a brilliant tactician who directed much of the British war effort in the east against the Japanese, but also the penultimate Viceroy of India.
The capital also boasts a National Museum. It’s on one of the main shopping streets, Jinnah Road Quetta, and has a fascinating exhibition of antique firearms.
Evidence of the bitter Afghan struggle between 1980 and 1989 is visible everywhere, particularly in the International Red Cross orthopaedic treatment centre, where refugees and Mujahideen freedom fighters undergo amputation and rehabilitation.
Nine kilometres (six miles) out of Quetta the jade waters of Hanna Lake form a colourful contrast to the barren, ochre-coloured mountainsides. It’s the city’s main water supply and something of a weekend resort.
Before you reach the lake, there’s a right turn that follows a track into the delightful Urak valley of Quetta, rich and fertile, with vineyards and orchards of apples, peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots, clinging to the hillsides.